Seth surveyed the freshly-seeded food plots with satisfaction. He and Zane had worked all day to get the seed in the ground after the rain and in time for the next expected rain tonight.
He’d pushed himself hard, working through lunch, barely stopping for a drink. He was punishing himself, and he knew it, but he couldn’t get last night out of his mind.
He’d hurt her, and he didn’t know if he could forgive himself for that. He’d broken every oath he’d ever made to himself ever since she’d come into his life. A man’s promise was everything, and if he couldn’t keep his word to himself, then how could he be expected to be honorable with anyone else?
In all of it, though, he wasn’t the angriest over his broken vow. No, what pissed him off the most was the fact that what he wanted was to go back to her and make it up to her. To love her as gently and as tenderly as he could. Show her how it could be instead of the rough, uncaring ass he’d shown himself to be the night before. He still cringed when he remembered the small whimper of pain when he’d driven ruthlessly into her.
God almighty. He closed his eyes, willing the memory away.
“Looks like we’re done,” Zane said as he tore off his gloves and tossed them into the back of the truck.
Seth nodded but didn’t say anything. Zane seemed different today. More calm, less brooding and angry. He wasn’t sure why, and he didn’t really want to ask.
How would Zane react if he knew what had happened in Seth’s bedroom last night? And why the hell had Zane and Jasmine been wrapped up in each other’s arms if they hadn’t had sex? He knew he owed Zane an apology but damned if he could offer him one without going into the details of how he knew Zane hadn’t had sex with her.
“You want to run into Tucker’s and get a drink?” Seth asked. “Maybe we’ll run into Mary Jo.” He said the last with a half-hearted smile and even less enthusiasm. Mary Jo hadn’t been out to the ranch in nearly a year. The last time had been just a few weeks after Jasmine had left for Paris. Even then he hadn’t been into it. Zane had driven her back to town because Seth hadn’t wanted her to stay over.
Now as he looked at his brother, he knew Zane wasn’t any more interested now than Seth had been then. Zane shook his head. “You go on without me. I’d rather hang out at the ranch tonight. I haven’t spent much time with Jaz lately.”
There was a subtle challenge to Zane’s voice as if he expected Seth to object, but Seth stayed silent. He knew Jasmine and Zane had always been close, and it was apparent that Seth had seriously misjudged their relationship.
Seth walked toward the truck but paused as he opened the door. He stared over the hood at Zane who was getting into the passenger seat. “I’m sorry, man.”
Zane met his gaze across the truck. “Me too.”
They slid into the truck, and Seth knew it wouldn’t be brought up again. Fighting with his brother wasn’t one of his prouder moments, and he’d needed Zane to know it was something he regretted.
As they drove over the bumpy terrain back to the dirt road, Zane stared out the windshield. “Dad would be proud of what we’ve done with the place.”
Seth looked at him in surprise. It had been a long while since they’d discussed their parents. He knew it was still a source of discomfort for Zane. Their deaths had affected him deeply.
“Yeah, I think he would. It was always his dream. He loved the land. Loved wildlife even more.”
Zane smiled. “Do you remember the time we all went hunting in Alabama and Mom bagged a bigger buck than Dad?”
Seth chuckled. “Sure do. The old man was impossible to live with for a month after.”
“He was proud of her, though. He bragged about her to anyone who would listen.”
“That he did.”
“I miss them,” Zane said simply.
It grew quiet in the cab. “Yeah, so do I,” Seth said finally.
It had been fourteen years since the tragic accident. At eighteen, Seth had just graduated high school and had been ready to go away to college. But he’d hung all that up to stay on the ranch and take care of his fourteen-year-old brother. Those first years had been tough. Not so much financially. Their parents had left them well provided for. But the brothers had been grief-stricken. Zane especially had been at an awkward age where he’d needed his parents. Seth had done the best he could to be both brother and parent, but he knew he hadn’t measured up.
After they’d brought Jasmine home and hired Carmen, a sense of family had been restored to the ranch. It hadn’t seemed as lonely. And when Jasmine had gone away, she’d taken a lot of the life with her. It wasn’t the same without her.
But now that she’d come back, nothing would ever be as it was before. It was a complicated mess.
They drove the rest of the way to the ranch in silence. When Seth parked the truck, he and Zane got out to unhook the trailer and put away the equipment.
“Have a good time at Tucker’s,” Zane said as they made their way to the house. Zane stripped off his shirt and bundled it in a wad. He tossed it down in the laundry room on their way in. “I’m going to head up for a shower. I’ll catch you when you get home.”
Seth nodded as he kicked off his boots. Carmen would have his ass if he tracked dirt on her floors. He pulled off his shirt but stopped short of taking his pants off. In the past, he wouldn’t have hesitated, but now it didn’t seem appropriate. Damn shame when a man couldn’t walk through his own house in his underwear.
He walked barefooted through the kitchen and into the living room. As he started for the stairs, he met Jasmine at the bottom. She ducked her head and looked away but not before he saw the hurt in her eyes and the smudges underneath.
His chest tightened uncomfortably as she walked away. He’d give anything to have last night back again. He’d give anything not to have hurt her. But he’d done nothing but hurt her ever since she’d returned. It seemed to be the one thing he was good at lately.
With a soft curse, he trudged up the stairs to his bathroom. He needed to be away for the evening, and he had no intention of looking up Mary Jo, or any other woman for that matter. What he could use were a few stiff drinks and a bottle of you-fucked-up.
It was just as well that Seth had left. If Zane had to guess, he’d be gone damn near all night. He had that dark look that meant he was brooding about something, and when that happened, he usually threw back a few and slept it off in town.
Jaz was in her room, and he hadn’t heard a peep from her all evening. As ridiculous as it sounded, Zane was nervous about going to her. He knew he’d hurt her with his brush-off and subsequent avoidance. She might not be in a very receptive mood.
But he had to address this thing between them. He had to do something to assuage the constant ache. It wasn’t just sexual either. His chest hurt half the time and the other half he felt strangely empty.
He stood outside of Jaz’s room and tapped lightly on her door. When he heard her soft call to come in, he pushed the door open and stepped around it.
She was sitting on the bed, her back propped against the half dozen pillows she insisted on sleeping with. She was wearing only a thin T-shirt that touched the top of her navel and a pair of lacy panties.
When she met his gaze, her cheeks became a dusty pink, and she grabbed for the covers. “I thought you were Carmen.”
He said nothing. He walked over to the bed, sat down on the edge and drew one leg up so he was turned toward her.
“I’ve missed you, Jaz,” he said simply.
He reached out a hand to touch her cheek. Her eyes closed briefly as if she found pleasure in his gesture. He stroked his fingers over her skin and pulled her hair away from her face to tuck it behind her ear.
“I’ve missed you too,” she whispered.
Slowly he lowered his head, closing the distance between them. He slid his hand behind her neck until his palm cradled the base of her skull. He pulled her to him to meet his kiss.
A soft sigh escaped her, and he felt a tremor work its way through her body.
“I want you, Jaz. I’ve argued with myself. I swore I wouldn’t touch you, but at the moment, I can’t think of a single reason why I can’t make love to you.”
As she pulled further away, he could see shadows in her eyes. The sight did funny things to his heart. He wanted her to shine. He wanted to make her light up. It was only now that he realized just how much his rejection had hurt her.
“I won’t push you away again, honey,” he murmured as he trailed a finger down the line of her jaw.
She sighed heavily. “There are things you need to know, Zane. I have to be honest with you. I can’t hide the truth from you anymore.”
Jasmine watched as he processed her statement with a look of wariness. He glanced uncertainly at her.
“What do you need to tell me?” he asked cautiously.
His hand paused in its descent, and she reached up to cup it, wanting to touch him in some way. She wasn’t sure how he would take her revelation. She wasn’t really ready to tell him, but if he was here for why she thought, she couldn’t allow matters to go further without him knowing everything.
Zane appreciated bluntness. He wasn’t much into games or long, drawn-out dramas so the longer she pussyfooted around the issue, the more annoyed he’d become.
“I slept with Seth last night.”
Zane blinked in surprise. “Slept? As in slept like you do sometimes in my bed or are we talking about something else?”
“As in I was a virgin when you and I had sex, and then I had sex with Seth. He was my first. Well, technically you were my first,” she corrected and groaned inwardly at the mess she was making of things. “He was the first I had actual intercourse with.”
Zane’s hand fell away from her face, and he dragged it through his hair, a look of confusion marring his features.
“But why? I mean I noticed that things weren’t good between you and Seth, but I assumed it was because of what happened between you and me.”
If she didn’t make him understand and understand soon, she was going to lose him before she ever got her mouth open. She leaned forward, curling her feet underneath her so she pressed into his chest. He was stiff against her.
She moved her hands up his body, and then she cupped his face between her palms. “I love you, Zane.”
He looked even more confused by her declaration.
“But I love Seth, too.”
Understanding flickered in his eyes, something she hadn’t expected.
He reached up and took one of her hands from his face. He turned it over and pressed his lips to her palm. “What happened with Seth?”
“He was furious with me,” she admitted. “I snuck into his room and seduced him. Things were good until he realized I was a virgin. Then he got pissed and we didn’t finish. He hasn’t spoken to me since.”
“Does he know you love him…me?”
“I told him I loved him. I haven’t told him I love you. He won’t accept that I love him, so I can’t imagine he’d take the news that I love you both any better.”
Zane sighed. “We’ve both hurt you badly.”
“I haven’t handled it well.” She shrugged. “What was I supposed to do? I don’t always understand it myself. There aren’t any rule books for something like this.”
She studied his face, looking for disgust, anger, anything to let her know that she’d just lost any chance of earning his love. But all she saw was the same understanding she’d seen earlier.
“Does it make you angry?” she asked hesitantly.
His lips twisted, and he gave a little shrug. “To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel. I suppose I should be angry. Jealous even. But I can also understand how you have feelings for us both.”
He studied her for a long moment. “What is it that you want, Jaz? Because I want you happy above all else.”
She hesitated, gathering her courage and praying that what she was about to say wouldn’t drive him away.
“What if I told you that the only way I could be happy is if I was with you both. If you both loved me and were willing to accept that I loved you both?”
She saw an odd mixture of relief as well as something else she couldn’t quite name in his eyes.
“You’re not holding out for which of us makes a move first?” he asked gruffly.
She was a little stung by the question even though she recognized how it must look. What she was proposing wasn’t everyday run-of-the-mill.
“I love you both,” she said simply. “I want…I want a life with both of you. It’s why I came home. Is that something you can accept?”
She regretted the question. It was too soon. She hadn’t given him time, and she shouldn’t be pressuring him.
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I came to you tonight because I wanted you in my arms. I wanted to make love to you. I wasn’t prepared—”
She put a finger over his lips to shush him. “Then love me,” she said softly. “Everything else can wait.”
Zane looked at Jasmine with hungry eyes. Her heart fluttered and rolled as he leaned in to kiss her. His hands cupped her face, and his thumbs brushed across her cheek bones as his tongue found hers.
He pushed forward, leaning her back until she settled against the pillows. He kissed her lovingly, so gently, her chest swelled and ached.
His hands skated down her body until they reached her hips. He lifted his weight off her long enough to pull her down the bed until she was lying flat on the mattress.